From fan to hero, super sub Joselu lifts Real Madrid past Bayern and into Champions League final

Two years ago, Joselu Mato was just another Real Madrid fan cheering in the stands of the Stade de France as it won a record-extending 14th European Cup.

On Wednesday, the journeyman striker scored two late goals to achieve another memorable Madrid comeback in a 2-1 win over Bayern Munich and send them back to the Champions League final.

“I try and make the most of my chances,” the 34-year-old Joselu said. “As for two years ago, this is how it feels to be a Real Madrid fan. I had the opportunity to go and support Madrid and now I get to experience it first hand.”

Much like Madrid’s run to the 2022 final when Karim Benzema and Rodrygo stunned rivals with late goals in comeback victories over Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City, it was the turn of the modest Joselu to etch his name into the club’s long Champions League lore against mighty Bayern.

“It’s a dream come true to have nights like this,” he said. “My dreams aren’t as beautiful as what happened. As a forward, you dream of scoring goals, and if they’re like this then even better.”

Joselu’s arrival last summer was not a typical Real Madrid move. The powerhouse normally likes to make huge blockbuster moves such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Jude Bellingham, etc., or develop young talents like Rodrygo, Vinícius Júnior and Eduardo Camavinga.

Joselu, in turn, was an aging striker who quietly made a fine career providing goals for small teams whose main objective is just avoiding relegation.

Born in Stuttgart, Germany, Joselu returned to Spain with his family as a young child. After starting his career at Celta Vigo, he was signed by Madrid for its reserve team before he strung together stints with German clubs Eintracht Frankfurt, Hoffenheim, Hannover and English clubs Stoke and Newcastle.

He reached his prime on returning to the Spanish league in 2019, scoring in double digits in his three seasons at Alaves and his single campaign with Espanyol. That earned him his international debut with Spain at age 32.

Even so, his goals could not save Alaves or Espanyol from being relegated in consecutive seasons.

And that was when opportunity knocked.

After Espanyol went down last year, Madrid secured him on a one-season loan from the Barcelona-based club now playing in the second division.

Madrid must have seen that Joselu’s proven ability to poach goals, win high balls, score with one touch and with headers, could fill a hole in its squad of speedsters, skilled dribblers, and passers.

Madrid had just lost Benzema, its top scorer, who left for Saudi Arabia, but Joselu was clearly not a replacement for the 2022 Ballon d’Or winner. Even if Madrid was going to wait another year in its pursuit of Kylian Mbappé, then Joselu was still at best a bench player, a substitute for Carlo Ancelotti to toss into the box in the final minutes hoping to connect with a last-gasp cross or corner.

And that was exactly what Joselu did on Wednesday when Bayern was up a goal and Madrid was once again needing to conjure up a bit of that Bernabeu magic.

Joselu’s moment came when goalkeeper Manuel Neuer marred his outstanding night by spilling an apparently routine save of a shot by Vinícius. Joselu knew he had to be close just in case and, sure enough, the ball fell to his feet for an easy tap in for the 88th-minute equalizer.

“A striker always has to be active in the area, ready for a loose ball,” Joselu said. “When I saw the bounce the ball took I knew that anything could happen, and I was prepared to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Madrid wasn’t done, and it was Joselu who arrived to knock in a cross from central defender Antonio Rüdiger for the stoppage-time winner.

Joselu has far surpassed expectations at Madrid with his highly productive 17 goals across all competitions in limited minutes.

He will have a chance to play in a Champions League final, especially if Madrid finds itself trailing on the scoreboard, against Borussia Dortmund on June 1 in London.

“He’s a reflection of the team because he has contributed so much this season,” Ancelotti said about Joselu. “He hasn’t had a lot of game time but he’s the perfect reflection of what this team is all about. He has given us so much, without ever losing confidence in what he’s capable of.”


AP soccer:

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up